Well, well, well.
On Friday I walked from Bellever Forest Youth Hostel near Postbridge first to Moretonhampstead. Having used the public toilets and got something for lunch, I asked the locals about how big Dunsford was…I was told it was much smaller and only had one shop – a post office, which would probably be closed by the time I got there. I made the decision to press on anyway.
On the way out of Moretonhampstead a Danish tourist who had been to school for 6 months in Japan asked me about my clothes. He said, “Ganbatte” which means something like “good luck” or “do your best”.
Next I had my second Japanese interaction of the day – an older couple from Osaka were over on holiday and asked me about my robes. “Have you ever been to Japan?”, said the woman. When they found out that I was a Nichiren Shu Priest they were amazed that there I was, in England, on Dartmoor, with a drum, doing angya. “So strange!” she said, and got her husband to take a picture of us together. (Sorry I don’t have the photo)
I pushed on to Dunsford and having tried to find an appropriate field to camp in but failed, I knocked on the door of a nearby house to ask if there was somewhere I’d be out of the way. The lady kindly suggested a house that used their garden as a campsite for people, but it was 1.5 miles away and I wasn’t going to do that! She also said there was a youth hostel about half a mile back down the road I’d just come, so I turned around and went to look for it. By this point my feet were tired, and I just wanted somewhere to lay down. It turns out it wasn’t the sort of youth hostel you can just turn up at! By this point I’d had enough. Back I came to Dunsford, where I sat in the bus shelter for a bit feeling sorry for myself and working out what to do. I made up my mind to keep walking to Exeter with my reflective backpack, headtorch and handheld torch on the road ahead, a “night-hike”.
Before leaving the village I knocked on the door of one of the last houses, where a Hungarian family were staying on holiday to fill up my water bottle. They kindly let me camp in the garden (there was no space inside, with one of their 4 children all ready sleeping on the sofa downstairs), and invited me in to have some dinner.
The weather had turned and it was very windy and poured with rain – luckily the bamboo tent poles are still performing well. It was really cold that night, even with the thermal gilet I’d bought for night time in Tavistock. I woke up every hour or so, but managed to get some rest.
On Saturday morning I headed off to Exeter at 7:30am. It was too early to drum, so it was a chance to listen to nature. The only other people up were the farmers going about their morning chores. Several times during the trip I’ve yearned to just walk in silence and enjoy the countryside, but this tradition of angya, walking and chanting, isn’t for me.
Cycling seems to be the thing to do near Exeter on a Saturday morning – I must have passed more than 50 people on the walk. Three of them, separately all called “herrroooooo” (hello) in a silly, racist, fake Japanese accent to me on the way past…the third time I admit, I lost my temper and replied, “herrooo!!”
It was only later that I saw that day’s quote of the Lotus Sutra “quote of the day” I receive by email daily:
If anyone speaks ill of you, or threatens you
With swords, sticks, tile-pieces or stones
While you are expounding this sūtra,
Think of me, and be patient!
The rain managed to hold off until the last mile, when sudden showers pelted down and I scrambled to get my poncho on. I stopped to have some food, buy a razor to shave, and went to Specsavers to get more contact lenses. The woman who served me thought I was dressed for a star wars theme, which was perhaps plausible:
I walked through Exeter to the A360, but finally retreated as it looked too busy, it was raining and I’d had enough. I’d made it to Exeter. I’d achieved that. I could find some excuse to tell people, and I’d be forgiven for stopping there…
I stayed in Exeter Saturday night and Sunday night to hunker down from the rain, and recover myself. My planned schedule was now slipping away faster and faster, but I needed the time.
The week before I’d emailed my master in Japan, giving him what I thought was an update, but reading it back now, I was basically just complaining. He’d replied saying something like, “Oh Kanse, that is good. Now you are suffering. Continue as far as you can. Your practice of Angya is for other people. Do you understand?”
Did I understand!!?? That’s the whole reason I embarked on this trip! What did he think I was doing this for, a holiday? I’d much rather be at the temple, or maybe having a few days away somewhere, not walking 300 miles banging a drum for weeks!
…was my initial reaction. But after the two days in Exeter, I realised what he was pointing out was that my own challenge to myself was entwined with any altruistic intention I may have had. My initial reaction of irritation was because he was showing me myself. I no longer had any self-challenge steam left. I’d reached a turning point. Now the only way to continue was to think of other people. But I was worried if that would be enough.
On Monday morning I set off for Honiton. I realised there is a nice cycle route that goes the whole way, avoiding the A360. I ended up staying in Wilmington, just outside Honiton. From there, on Tuesday I walked 18 miles to Crewkerne.
I took small roads to walk in as straight a line as possible, but it was hilly! As a Cornish man, maybe that was why Captain James was so aware of the difficulties of the locals in his area climbing up the hill near his house!
On the way to Crewkerne I was stopped by the police for a third time (Somerset now – I’ve made it from Cornwall, through Devon into Somerset and as I write this am in Dorset), this time because of reports of a sword. I’m starting to wonder if that’s what they say to everyone walking on the side of the road if they want to talk to them…
The police officer said it wasn’t far to Crewkerne, so head down, I headed off and arrived after 8pm just before the light started properly disappearing.
At the beginning of the trip, when it started getting to 5pm I’d be worrying about where I was going to sleep – the natural human desire to be in control eating away at the potential walking time. As the trip has gone on though, I’ve forced myself to give up trying to have that control.
I arrived in Crewkerne with nowhere to stay, when Gail, who I’d passed all ready on the road a while ago, walked towards me and called, “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo!”…amazing! She asked if she could give me bed for night me dinner…it didn’t take me very long to think about it! It turns out she is Buddhist and was in London helping out when the Battersea Peace Pagoda was being built. I am so grateful!
Today (Wednesday) the two of us walked and drummed, chanting “Namu Myoho Renge Kyo,” through Crewkerne to the edge of town where we bid farewell, and I continued on to Yeovil alone.
When I arrive in a new town or village there are two things I look for: a toilet, and a bench to sit on. Who would have thought a bench could be so comfortable!? As I ate my packed lunch a lady from Hong Kong came to chat, and gave me encouragement and some money for food. I stopped to fill up my water bottle and then headed to the edge of town.
I had planned to walk along this road to get to Sherborne, and on google maps it doesn’t look like big road, but the traffic was going quite fast, and it was a dual carriageway with no grass verges. I sat down to look for alternative routes. There weren’t really any. Maybe the time to hitchhike had finally come. Just then a lady who had passed me on the road earlier came to ask what it was all about. She and her husband very kindly gave me a lift for the 4 miles to Sherborne to save me walking the dual carriageway.
I don’t have any pictures together with anyone I’ve met along the way, which is a shame. I know some have been taken. If you’re out there and reading this, and don’t mind sharing a photo, please drop me an email to kansecapon @ gmail.com. Us English are shy folks, I know, but it would be lovely to share. Or if not share, I’d love to have the pictures as momentos.
A big palms together to everyone!